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If you want to eat healthier, researchers at Cornell University have identified three simple steps you can do to make it easier. While eating healthy foods is largely a matter of personal choice, just a few small changes can make it part of your routine.
The researchers examined 112 earlier studies that looked at increasing healthy eating behavior. Their conclusion was that changes which effectively improved healthy eating focused on making healthy foods convenient, attractive, and normal. This has been labeled the “C.A.N.” approach to healthy eating. According to lead researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim By Design, “we find that if you want to eat better or even want your family to eat better, it’s much easier to change your immediate environment than it is to try to use willpower.”
School cafeterias have used this approach to increase the consumption of white milk over chocolate milk by 30 to 60 percent. They made getting white milk more convenient by putting the white milk in the front of the cooler, offered milk that was packaged in an attractive bottle and made white milk appear more normal by having it occupy at least half of the space in the cooler instead of a tiny corner.
How could you use this approach in your personal life? Incorporate healthy foods into your daily routine. In this way you don’t have to make a conscious choice each time to eat healthy, it just comes naturally. Wansink gave these examples:
1. Place a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen countertop. Or put single servings of healthy foods in easy reach in the refrigerator. Putting healthy foods within easy reach makes it easier to incorporate them into your routine. “First, you’ve just made these foods more convenient. It’s much easier to put a fruit bowl on the table right next to where you place your car keys than it is to say, ‘Okay, everyday I’m going to eat more fruit.’ Now it’s just there automatically and you don’t have to think about it.”
2. Try to make these foods more appealing. If you buy healthy foods that also look and taste good, you’re more likely to eat more of them. “Perhaps buy a better brand of apples or the more expensive yogurt that you enjoy,” says Wansink.
3. As you get used to eating healthy, it becomes normal. When eating healthy becomes a habit, it soon becomes normal. “One of the reasons we don’t eat very healthy is because we don’t necessarily, in the back of our minds, see it as the ‘normal’ thing we do in our everyday lives. But all of a sudden, if the only foods we’re seeing in the front of the refrigerator are healthy ones, it sort of subconsciously makes us say to ourselves, ‘It must be normal to eat healthy food.’”
As eating healthy becomes more normal, eating unhealthy foods becomes less so. Moving chips and candy to a higher or lower shelf in the kitchen cabinet requires you to make a conscious effort to get it. Says Wansink, “we find that the typical American household has snacks in about four cupboards in their home. But if someone put those snacks in one cupboard and places the food way up high or way down low, what they’ve done is made the less healthy items, at the very least, less convenient, which means you’re more likely to eat less of it.”
You can do the same thing at the office, by moving the unhealthy food a little further away from your chair. “We find that the typical person has Hershey Kisses on their desk and eats, on average, about 225 calories of Kisses a day. So by moving the dish six feet away, well, that number drops by about 100.”
There’s a saying that habits start as cobwebs, but soon become cables. These simple changes can help make healthy eating a daily habit, which has long-term benefits for your health.